7 steps to veggie garden soil prep
Any experienced gardener will tell you that it’s all about the soil. But what does that mean? Soil provides air, moisture, nutrients and anchorage for our plants, all of which are needed to make them flourish. The better the soil is adapted to plant roots, the better the growth. Not many soils are ideal for growing productive plants without a bit of soil prep before planting begins.
Our 7 soil prep steps
Follow these seven steps to create excellent planting soil in your vegetable garden.
Step 1: Clean and clear.
To get started, remove all the weeds, unwanted plants and debris in the soil including roots, surface stones and rubbish. Pull weeds out by hand or dig them out. This preparation gets rid of impediments to growth but also removes sources of pests and diseases and reduces competition for moisture and nutrients. To remove persistent weeds, cut down or treat the weeds with an organic herbicide then cover the cleared area with clear plastic. The sun heats up the soil beneath the cover and kills the weed seeds preventing regrowth.
Step 2: Watch and wait.
If there’s time between soil preparation and planting, water the cleared soil then wait. This break allows weed seeds in the soil to germinate. As they appear turn them into the soil using a spade or chip them out with a hoe. Cover the area with a layer of organic mulch to prevent more weed growth. When it is time to plant, move aside the mulch to ready the planting area.
Step 3: Green manure.
If the soil isn’t going to be used for a season, plant a green manure crop rather than leave the soil fallow. A green manure crop is a legume crop such as fava beans that put nitrogen into the soil while it grows. The crop is then cut down before flowering and dug in thoroughly before the soil is planted.
Step 4: Dump the lumps.
Most soils contain hard bits such as stones and clods. These can impede plant roots making it hard for them to penetrate the soil. In a large vegetable space it may be necessary to rotary hoe the soil, especially if it is hard to dig. In a small area simply giving it a light dig with a spade followed by raking it level will locate any subsurface problems and create a soil that’s receptive to sowing seed or planting seedlings. Don’t overwork the soil as you will destroy natural organisms and structure. Never dig soil when it is wet. Clay soils that are hard to dig can be treated with gypsum, which is dug or watered into the soil.
Step 5: Add nutrients.
Most soils benefit from the addition of fertiliser before planting. Spread pelletised or granular fertiliser following the instructions on the packet and lightly dig or rake it in. Alternatively, add a layer of organic matter such as compost or animal manure and work it in to the soil. Ideally leave soils for a week after adding fresh manure and before planting. If digging is hard for you, spread organic matter over the soil surface then allow the natural processes such as earthworm activity and rain to combine it with the existing soil. Liquid composts are a no-dig way to incorporate organic material prior to planting and can improve soil structure.
Step 6: Add water.
After adding nutrients, water the soil. Check that water is penetrating and soaking into the soil. If the water fails to soak in, water it over with a soil wetting agent. Hose-on products are easy ways to apply soil wetters to a large area, or use a watering can for a smaller bed.
Step 7: Create planting rows.
Most vegetables are easier to manage if they are planted in rows. Space the rows according to the needs of each crop. As a rule of thumb, large growers need more space between each row but follow the spacing information on the seed packet or seedling label. Also leave space to access the row for tending the crop. To create a planting row for seeds – also known as a drill - lay down a tool such as a rake with a long handle on the prepared soil. Push it down to make a depression. For plants that need a greater planting depth such as potatoes or asparagus, dig a planting trench. Some veggies such as pumpkin and zucchini do well in mounds. To create a planting mound, just add lots of well-rotted compost or manure and dig it in.